Five major wildfires are still burning throughout the state, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Coloradans’ camping plans need to be placed on hold. This September, dozens of Colorado campsites are accepting reservations and for many campers, the question is: Are those sites really safe — and are they safe for everyone?
The Forest Service has closed certain portions of Colorado’s forests where ongoing fires might spread, and it’s regularly updating its site with new closure information. Meanwhile, even at open sites, air pollution caused by smoke from both Colorado’s and California’s fires can pose a health risk for anyone breathing in that air for an extended period of time.
According to Alex Huffman, an associate professor at the University of Denver who studies the health impact of inhaled particles, those health risks aren’t just an issue on their own. They may also have a link to the severity of complications when someone comes down with COVID-19.
But even during wildfires, Huffman said it’s important to get out and enjoy the outdoors. And it’s possible to do that safely, he added, suggesting that campers look into the possible risks of an area before making plans.
One tool that can help is this interactive fire and smoke map overseen by AirNow, a partnership of several government agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The website includes data from permanent and temporary air quality monitors, which are color-coded on the map; green monitors indicate areas with good air quality, followed by yellow, orange and red.
In green areas, the EPA has said there is little or no risk. In yellow areas, there could be a moderate risk for unusually sensitive populations, such as older adults, children and people with heart or lung disease. That said, because of the way air quality is monitored, smaller particles, like smoke particles, may be more prevalent than the ratings show, Huffman said.
“The breathing quality and the health effects in the yellow areas may be a little bit more noticeable than you might expect, no matter who you are,” Huffman said. “I would be careful in those regions and consider if you want to go there or not.”
Twin Peaks Campground
Where: Southwest of Denver, the campgrounds are west of the Twin Lakes and can be reached by taking US 24 south from Leadville. The site is located in Chaffee County, which is in a Stage 2 Fire Ban. This ban prohibits campfires and only allows liquid gas or propane-fueled cooking stoves outdoors.
Reverends Ridge Campground
Where: Toward the northern end of Golden Gate Canyon State Park, the easiest way to reach the campgrounds is by taking Highway 93 through Golden to the north and turning left onto Golden Gate Canyon Road, just north of Washington Avenue. The road will take you all the way from Golden to the campgrounds. The site is located in Gilpin County, which is currently in a Stage 2 Fire Ban.
Aspen Meadows Campground
Where: Also located in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, the site can be reached via Golden Gate Canyon Road or by taking Highway 93 north to Highway 72, then turning left off the highway onto Twin Spruce Road.
Where: This campground in Idaho Springs is about an hour west from Denver. Take US-6 west to I-70, then take I-70 through Georgetown before reaching Guanella Pass Road.
Where: To reach this smaller campground in the Canyon Lakes Ranger District, take Highway 287 about 11 miles north of Fort Collins, then turn left onto Highway 14. Continue for another 13 miles before reaching the site.
Where: Kelsey Campground is just over an hour south of the Denver area. Take US Highway 285 south until you reach Pine Valley Road. Take a left and continue on the road for about 17 miles, staying on the road when it turns into Deckers Road, until you reach Kelsey Campground.
Elk Ridge Campground
Where: One of three campgrounds in Ridgway State Park, the site is located several hours outside of Denver. Take I-70 west almost 250 miles to exit 37, which will take you onto US-50. Follow the highway east to US-550 in Montrose, which will take you south to the campground.